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Venezuela: A safe harbour for terrorists

By John | Reason Over Might

22.01.05 | On 13 December 2004, Venezuelan operatives, acting against the policy of their government and presumably motivated by a substantial bounty, captured one of the FARC's top leaders outside a Caracas café, took him to a town on the Colombian side of the border and handed him over to Colombian authorities. The FARC leader, Rodrigo Granda, was known as the Chancellor of the FARC and acted as a kind of international public relations agent and liaison to terrorist movements in other countries. (The FARC's official propaganda website can be viewed here.)

The Venezuelan government has been left with egg all over its face: not only was Granda comfortably resident in Venezuela, living in a pleasant house near Maracay with his family as well as in an apartment in Caracas, but he was also naturalized as a Venezuelan citizen, registered to vote in last year's referendum and state elections, and attended a revolutionary congress staged by the government at the end of the year. The government has been twisting itself into knots trying to get out of the predicament in which it finds itself. It has tried both defensive and offensive tactics.

In its defense, it has variously claimed that there was no information about Granda having entered the country, or that if he was indeed in Venezuela, he must have entered the country illegaly (Minister for Justice and the Interior Jesse Chacon, 28 December 2004), then, once it became apparent that he had been naturalized, that he must have been naturalized using false documents. The Miraflores autocrat personally declared Granda's citizenship null and void in an attempt to distance himself from the terrorist, but the problem appears to be stickier than that. The government has not yet seen fit to launch an investigation into those who naturalized him; I suspect it is because it was done with the knowledge and consent of the authorities. In one of the most comical moments in the world's legal history, the best that Granda's lawyer, Miguel Gonzalez, could come up with in his defense was that Granda, a top member of Latin America's primary kidnapping ring, had been kidnapped, that this was a crime against humanity, and that his client would seek to be returned to the country of his citizenship, i.e. Venezuela, for trial.

The Venezuelan government has found it impossible to justify the terrorist kingpin's presence in the country, and has moved on to the offensive: they first accused the Colombian government of "violating Venezuelan sovereignty" until it became clear that Colombian security forces did not actually act on Venezuelan territory (the issue still appears to be somewhat in doubt). They then redefined bounty ("recompensa") as bribery ("soborno") and continue to accuse the Colombian government of violating Venezuelan sovereignty by bribing its officials, which is curious because the Venezuelan government has also placed bounties on (non-terrorist!) opponents' heads in the past. The Colombian government acted with admirable restraint and issued terse communiqués in response to Venezuela's increasingly emotional demands. Venezuela overreacted by recalling its ambassador from Bogotá, freezing all trade and binational treaties with Colombia, hindering cross-border traffic, and demanding that the Colombian government publicly apologise for its evil deeds. The government is obviously highly flustered.

Venezuela claims that Colombia should have used the extradition agreement between the two countries as a basis for requesting that Granda be handed over, but presumably Colombia knew that this was going to be an unpromising route (they'd determined that empirically in two similar cases in the recent past, those of Vladimiro Montesinos-Peru and José María Ballestas-Colombia), so they'd decided to act on their own. Consciously or unconsciously, this might have been a masterly move: Colombia has now provided Venezuela with detailed information about another 7 top terrorists living in Venezuela, and the Chávez government is caught in a quandary: either it delivers the terrorists to prove that the Colombians should have used the extradition route to get their hands on Granda (thereby alienating the left wing within the party, as well as ideological allies abroad), or it keeps them in Venezuela, which will make it even more difficult to deny charges of offering a safe harbour for terrorists. Either way, Uribe's government scores points and Chávez loses face. (Today, he's been trying to distract from his humiliation by demanding that Colombia deliver some Venezuelan dissidents who are living as political refugees in Colombia -- dissidents who are not members of an organisation like the FARC, which employs bombings, killings, landmines, kidnapping, extortion, hijacking, as well as guerrilla and conventional military action and uses the drug trade to finance its operations).

Internationally, the consequences of the Granda scandal are also unwelcome for the Venezuelan Führer: either he has to break rank with the international revolutionary movements by distancing himself from movements such as the FARC, or he risks being labeled a helper of terrorists in the eyes of the USA, an unpalatable future considering that country's recent appetite for unilateral action against terrorists. In any case, the scandal means that some of the world's attention is back on Venezuela and that another bit of the true face of the Chávez revolution is being exposed. Chávez is losing some of the ill-gotten credit he received for being confirmed in August's referendum, and can feel himself slowly drifting back into the crosshairs of U.S. foreign policy. From the perspective of ordinary Venezuelans, this is a good thing because Il Capo tends to be conciliatory when he feels watched. It will be interesting to see how events continue to unfold on this story. Together with the investigation into the Anderson extorsion ring, which appeared to have links into the top echelons of the Venezuelan government, and the brewing BBVA scandal over secret accounts currently being investigated by Spanish star prosecutor Báltasar Garzon, the pressure on Chávez is currently mounting from several sides. Let us hope the opposition takes heart and revives to make the most of this opportunity.

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